We left Topeka, Kansas at 3am and arrived in Cokeville, Wyoming around 5:18 pm. There we met Neil a gregarious game warden full of experience and a willingness to share them.
We were following Neil on the dirt road through the forest to the bait sites. The sun was low and it was affecting visibility so between the sun and Neil's break-neck pace it was hard to see him. We were moving right along when suddenly it felt as if the bottom dropped out from us and we stopped.
I got out and my friend Chris's truck was deep in a mud hole - high-centered.
My heart dropped and I thought on no, our hunt is over before it started. Chris thought the same thing.
Neil came back assessed our situation and said "yeah I was going to stop and tell you about that spot in the road. It is always wet. Think there's a spring there."
Great- might have been nice if you did tell us, but now what? Chris tried to drive out but he was stuck good.
Neil then remembered he had a tow rope so we proceeded to hitch the trucks up. Now me I would have eased up the slacked of the rope before going at it hard but now ol' Neil. He went 0 - 60 right away.
Geez he's going to pull Chris' front end off I thought but the mighty Silverado hung tough and climbed her way out of that mud pit.
Chris later remarked that he was glad that he went ahead and got the skid plate option. So am I, so am I.
After that incident all was well and Neil showed us bait sites and gave us information. We got to the camp site about 1 am. This after waking at 1 am for the 15 hour drive. I was exhausted but needed to set up camp.
I quickly heated a can of chicken noodle soup, drank it down and hit the sack.
Day 1 woke to snow and rain. The snow was quite the surprise. We heated water for instant coffee outside in the snow and we were off to check bait sites.
We went to the grind creek bait site. It looked like it had been hit. Filled it with dog food marshmallows and sprinkled with raspberry jello powder.
We are at 8600 feet. The slightest exertion has me gasping for air and my heart pounding. Can push through it and recover quickly. Need to be in better shape but training is helping
It is still raining. Got back to camp and had time to kill before seeing Neil again. I decided to take a nap in the truck. I ate jerky, cheese and Pringles for lunch.
Met up with Neil and he told us we could use his pull along trailer. With the bad weather it will be a trip saver.
Neil took us to water canyon where he has a bait site. It is a pretty easy walk in. The bait had been hit so we rebaited it.
Chris and I decided to stay and hunt it. We hunted from 7 to 9 but didn't see a bear. We did, however, see two elk cows on the way out. The walk out was much shorter because while Neil has great stories and loves to share them he apparently can't walk and talk at the same time. We cut the hike out by half.
We were happy to get back to camp and sleep in a dry trailer. It was about 1 am when we got back. We used the propane stove to heat the trailer a little before bed.
Day 2 woke to a sunshine which quickly changed to a snow blizzard. It then turned to rain. I cannot express in words how miserable it is.
We tried to improve the day by having a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. It worked.
We went out to check baits only to find the road blocked by two fallen trees. With only a hand saw, sawing them was not an option. We tried dragging the tree out of the road. Chris slipped and got his leg pinned under the tree. I was able to lift and he was freed. Chris remembered he had a tow rope and we were to tow both trees out of the road.
So we checked baits and got ready to hunt. Chris hunted Grindstone and I hunted Ferny Gulch. Grindstone is a .6 mile walk up a not too steep hill. Ferny Gulch is a .5-mile steep descent into a canyon. Remember what goes down must come up; pack and all. It takes me an half hour to come back up.
Chris saw a bear only after it come up from behind him. He didn't have a shot and it was gone. I only saw a buck in velvet feeding past me.
Came back and made pronghorn steaks and pork n beans for dinner. It was sort of a coming home for the antelope as I killed him last fall in Wyoming.
Day 3 checked baits including Wayer Canyon. It is a nice 1.6 mile hike in carrying bait. The hike is along a trail that follows a creek with some beautiful scenery.
I was exhausted and not up for climbing out of Ferny Gulch but as we were driving I saw a black bear in the woods heading that way. Of course my mind was made up. I was hunting it.
Didn't see a bear and neither did Chris. We had to be satisfied with the deer, elk and blue grouse we saw today.
My conditioning is much better now than when I started. I must be getting acclimated to the thin air.
Day 4. Rained last night of course but now just chilly and overcast. Will go into town to clean up today as we don't have to check bait.
This do it yourself bear hunting is tough work; very different than antelope hunting.
Who knew a shower at a truck stop could be as enoyable as a European spa? Shave in a private bathroom followed by a long hot shower to wash the caked on dirt and grime.
Sitting here while my clothes wash checking email mail and watching music videos on my Ipod. What a treat haha.
It is pouring rain outside right now. I hope it let's up before we go out to hunt tonight. Sitting in the cold rain is no fun.
Drove into downtown Cokeville, at least the two blocks and 3 stores that make up downtown Cokeville. Stopped in the Visitor Center and the 18ish clerk looked surprised to see a visitor and even more bewildered when I purchased 2 postcards. She asked quizzically, "how much are they?"
The weather cleared and we road down a winding road to Hobble Creek which I imagine at most times of the year is a meadering gentle trout creek but now is a raging muddy river.
On the way there, down in Ferny Gulch we spied two young bull elk grazing. One was a velvet 3 x 3. Lots of Mule deer does.
We fiddled around and then I packed it down to my bait sit. I put some fish into the bait barrel. I was told they don't like to eat the fish but the strong smell helps attract the bear.
I climbed higher today to a spot overlooking the bait. I was settled in by 5:56pm. Now it is a waiting game.
Thought to myself at least it isn't raining tonight and immediately the rain started. Little drips of rain-just enough to make me put on my jacket and to be annoying.
7 pm and the rain has stopped, at least for now.
Remembered earlier that the camo shirt I am wearing tonight is the one I wore the night I took a bear in Cadillac Quebec, in 1994. Maybe it will bring me the luck I need.
I am sitting behind a large pine tree for cover both from the bear and the rain.
I periodically shift my head to get a glance of the bait always hoping, always optimistic that I will see a bear. So far a dozen peeks and still no bear.
8:23 pm; a bull elk just passed through by the. For a moment I thought maybe a bear was coming in.
Prior I was in stealth mode; just being quiet and not moving. Now my senses are on high alert.
Nothing came into the bait so I packed it out to meet Chris.
Chris reported that his bait had been hit and he was in a hurry to get back to camp to check the trail cam pictures. Sure enough a large bear was at the bait between 1123 am and 1 am. He is a nice big gear.
Day 5. It stormed last night but it is sunny and cool this morning. After instant coffee we will go check bait sites.
Spoke too soon. The rain is back. Am I hunting Alaska? Or maybe Seattle? I would love one day without rain. I am not only tired of being wet but the mud is everywhere. Thick red mud that cakes to your boots, clothes and equipment.
Since the rain is continuing and we aren't going out yet, it means just one thing - bacon and eggs. This was the cure for bad weather and confinement to the trailer.
The trailer is dark even with a Coleman lantern so cooking is done with the aid of a flashlight and a bit of guesswork.
We went to check bait. We were able to check Ferny Gulch before the rain hit but I am sitting in the truck waiting out a torrential down before checking Grindstone.
As I sit here I have time to reflect on my 2010 mountain goat hunt in British Columbia. The good news is I feel as if I am getting stronger each day and feeling great each morning. The bad news is that I don't think I am condition for the goat hunt yet.
But back to the good news and that is I have over a year to train. This hunt has taught me a lot about mountain hunting. Things like not packing unessential equipment, listening to your body and going at your pace, not the guy in front of you. And, perhaps the most important lesson I learned is your physical ability can only rise as high as your mental toughness.
If in your mind you can push that last 100 yards up the ridge then your body can and will follow.
The rain let up and we made our way up to the grindstone site. The bait was hit. We refreshed it and came back to camp.
We checked trail cam pictures and it was the same bear at the same time as the night before. Will he change his pattern and come in earlier? That, my friend, is the 64000 dollar question.
600 pm and I am back on the bait at Ferny Gulch. All set up and now just time to sit and wait and think.
The temperature is about 40 degrees. With my Under Armor and camo I am comfortable.
It is 7pm and it is raining again. There is nothing like cold rain to dampen the body and spirits.
I am starting to lose hope of even seeing a bear, let alone killing one.
Sitting alone in the bottom of a gulch with grey skies and dripping rain might be okay on day one but tonight on day 5 it is not very pleasant.
No point dwelling on it because I am hunting until 9pm. Sit here and hunt or wait on the road until 930 when Chris will return to pick me isn't really a choice.
736pm and it is raining harder. My Gore Tex jacket is keeping me pretty dry but the rain sucks.
I have taken refuge under a pine tree. It is helping to keep my gear dry.
750 pm and the rain continues. I have pushed further under the pine tree and it is much drier now.
I can't see to the bait as well but I will take peeks and listen for bear sound.
I put my rifle in my backpacks scabbard to keep it dry - no quick shots but I rather keep my powder dry.
823pm and it is still raining. No bear no nothing but rain. Even the animals are smarter than me - they stayed home where it is warm and dry.
Ten minutes later and it is pouring now. No point in leaving if Chris isn't there to pick me up.
I couldn't take it until 9 nut made it to 848. Hiked up and only had to wait 10 minutes for Chris to come. We were both soak.
Made it back to camp and I cooked up beef stew (can) and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Chris's bait was hit before he came in to hunt. The camera showed the bear came in at 640 pm. Chris must have walked in as he was feeding.
Day 6 the last day of the hunt. Of course it rained through the night but isn't raining this morning. We made bacon and eggs again. None for me - still full from last night I guess. A little black instant coffee and I am good.
Plan to return the trailer to Neil today, hunt and then sleep in town. We will get up early Saturday morning and head home. Ah, home sweet home.
We decided to hunt Grindstone together since it is getting hit regularly. Chris suggested we take the bear together since we both have hunted hard.
We set up my ground blind and now at 317 pm it is the old waiting game.
Will the bear's need for food override his sense of danger?
Passing the time by eating marshmallows (yeah, I know they are for the bear but he has enough to share) and reading magazines.
We are at 8600 feet and I have adjusted to it. Carrying my backpack up here wasn't too bad. No stops, couple of pauses and to the top.
4:30 pm. No bear yet but optimistic. It is beautiful out. The sun is shining and no rain.
We continue to sit and wait until dark, but the bear never showed. We packed it in and headed back to camp. We could have waited until the next day to leave, but we decided to call it a hunt and head home driving through the night.
We didn’t get a bear, but it was a great adventure and isn’t that what hunting is really about?